Importance of a proper sleep schedule

Written by Nicola Hunter, 04 November

Nicola Hunter, Chartered Physiotherapist writes about the importance of maintaining a proper sleep schedule and how beneficial it is to our everyday lives.

So many of my friends tell me that they don’t sleep well and get quite worried about it. Worry about poor sleep can itself make things worse. The problem seems to become worse as you get older when people become less active during the day and when it’s easier to take a catnap during the day. If you have a painful problem such as arthritis it can be difficult to get comfortable to drop off to sleep and people tell me that they wake during the night because they are uncomfortable and need to move. I’ve written a few tips to try to get a better nights rest.


Have a regular bed and wake time

Our sleep-wake cycle is regulated by a "circadian clock" in our brain and the body's need to balance both sleep time and wake time. A regular bedtime and waking time in the morning strengthens the circadian clock. It is important to keep a regular bedtime and wake-time, even on the weekends when there is the temptation to sleep-in.

Get into a routine of staying awake during the day and resting at night. No matter how tired you are, try not to sleep or nap during the day if you don’t sleep well at night. Go to bed only when sleepy-tired in the late evening. Switch the light out as soon as you get into bed. Always get up at the same time each day, 7 days a week, however short the time you were asleep. Use an alarm to help with this. Resist the temptation to lie-in - the body becomes used to rhythms or routines. If you keep to a pattern, you are more likely to sleep well.


Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine

A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime helps separate your sleep time from wake time Avoid intense activities within 90 minutes before bedtime like working particularly on a computer or phone, paying bills, playing competitive games or problem-solving. These activities can cause excitement, stress or anxiety and make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Soaking in warm bath water before going to bed can help you fall into deeper sleep. Too hot a both can overheat you and make it difficult to sleep as your body temperature drops before you fall asleep. Learning a relaxation method or listening to a relaxation podcast or app may help with sleep, particularly if you find anxiety at bedtime is affecting your sleep. Some people find playing soft music is helpful at bedtime.


Create a dark, quiet, comfortable and cool bedroom

Make sure that your bedroom is cool, quiet, dark, comfortable and free of interruptions. Check your room for noise or other distractions, including a bed partner's sleep disruptions such as snoring, light, and a dry or hot environment. Ear plugs and eyeshades may be useful if you are sleeping with a snoring or wakeful partner. Make sure the bedroom stays dark with good curtains to stop early morning sunlight.


Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows

Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. Have comfortable pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep and remove anything that might cause you to slip or fall if you have to get up during the night. Take work, computers and televisions out of your bedroom. Don’t look at your phone or I pad as the light in the screen makes you more alert. Use your bed only for sleep and sex to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. If a particular activity or item makes you anxious about sleeping, take it out of your bedroom. For example, if looking at a bedroom clock makes you anxious about how much time you have before you must get up, move the clock out of sight.


Avoid eating 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime

Eating or drinking too much may make you less comfortable when settling down for bed. Avoid a heavy meal too close to bedtime. Also, spicy foods may cause heartburn, which leads to difficulty falling asleep and discomfort during the night. Try to restrict fluids close to bedtime to prevent nighttime awakenings to go to the bathroom, though some people find milk or herbal, decaffeinated teas to be soothing and a helpful just before bed.

Exercise regularly

Regular exercise during the day makes it easier to fall asleep and contributes to sounder sleep. Exercising right before going to bed will make falling asleep more difficult because exercise makes you more alert, and your body temperature rises during exercise. A cooler body temperature is associated with falling asleep.

Some people find the reason they can’t sleep is that, although the brain is tired, the body has not been exercised enough during the day. Take some exercise each day such as a brisk walk for half an hour as this can help you feel more relaxed and tired at bedtime.


Avoid caffeine and nicotine

Caffeine is a stimulant and keeps you awake Caffeine products, such as coffee, tea, colas and chocolate, remain in your body for 3 to 5 hours, but they can affect some people up to 12 hours later. Even if you do not think caffeine affects you, it may be disrupting and changing the quality of your sleep. Avoiding caffeine within 6-8 hours of going to bed can help improve sleep quality.

Nicotine is also a stimulant. Smoking before bed makes it more difficult to fall asleep. When smokers go to sleep, they experience withdrawal symptoms from nicotine, which also cause sleep problems. Nicotine can cause difficulty falling asleep, problems waking in the morning, and may also cause nightmares. Difficulty in sleeping is just one more reason to quit smoking. And never smoke in bed or when sleepy!


Avoid alcohol close to bedtime

Although many people think of alcohol as a sedative, it actually leads to a night of less restful sleep.


And if you cant sleep

Try to lie in bed and enjoy the warmth and comfort – your body is resting and this is good for it. If you find you are worrying then here's what to do
1. Get out of bed and sit somewhere quiet and comfortable with a pen and paper (not a tablet or phone) .
2. Write down the problems you are thinking about.
3. Taking each problem, write down everything you can possibly think you might do to solve the problem.
4. Choose the most helpful solution and write down all the steps you are going to need to take to do it. Write as much as you can.
5. Write down any obstacles and how you might tackle them.
6. When you are finished say to yourself I can’t do any more about it at this time of night. I am not going to let myself worry about it till the morning.
7. Unwind for 30 minutes by reading or listening to some music. When you start to feel sleepy go back to bed.
8. If you still find yourself worrying, keep saying to yourself I’ve dealt with my worry for now. Worrying about it now will not help. I’ll deal with it tomorrow.

Header Image source: Logan Nolin, Unsplash

Jogging Image Source: Gemilang Sinuyudhan, Unsplash

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